You know that you ought to be attending conferences as part of your academic career, but why? Here are five of the top benefits of attending conferences:
1. Get feedback on an early version of your latest work
Presenting at a conference can be nerve-wracking, and you might be tempted to fall back on the same presentation that you always give, because you know that it's safe. But if you do this, you'll be missing out on one great benefit of conferences: the chance to get feedback from experts on early versions of your work. You can use your presentation time to talk about preliminary results from your most recent experiment, and the feedback you get from your audience can help you to anticipate reviewers' comments when you try to get it published. Alternatively, you could present your well-established work, and then at the end you could throw out some ideas you have for future experiments and get feedback on these. A conference presents the chance to see a whole room full of world experts in your particular field, so there's no better chance to get your work in front of these people and have them candidly discuss its strengths and weaknesses.
2. Get to know other people in your field
One of the biggest benefits of attending a conference is getting to know other people in your field. We've talked before about how conferences are a key opportunity for networking. Networking in very important for job hunting, obviously, but having a big network benefits you in other ways too. Maybe you will need advice from an expert in another field, or you will want to ask someone to come and give a talk at your institution, and this is easier when you have a network to reach out to. It's also helpful to have support from people who are at a similar stage in their careers to you, and can empathise with the problems and struggles which you go through at work.
3. Hear about the latest research
If you want to know about the very latest findings in your field before they are even published in journals, then a conference is the place to be. Many researchers will present preliminary findings or work which has not yet been published at a conference. Of course, you should not take every claim you hear at a conference to be accurate until you are able to look through the methodology and findings for yourself, but this is a great chance to get a peek of what other people are working on. These ideas can be great inspiration for your own research.
4. Improve your presentation and communication skills
Soft skills are important for every career, and in academia or research then your skills in presentation and communication are particularly important. Fortunately, conferences give you the chance to practice these skills. Rehearsing and giving your talk or poster presentation will make you more comfortable in front of an audience, and you'll learn things like the speed at which you should talk and the amount of detail which you need to give in your explanations. Answering questions after your presentation and chatting with other attendees will help to hone your communications skills.
5. Visit a new place and have fun
Finally, it shouldn't be overlooked that attending a conference is good fun! Although a conference is unequivocally a work event more than a leisure one, it can still be enjoyable. Travelling to a new place is a big part of the appeal of a conference, meaning that you get to see a different city, eat new food, and see some local landmarks or tourist attractions. You might even try out learning a little bit of a new language.
You'll also have the chance to attend social functions as part of a conference, such as dinners, trips, or parties. Sometimes these events can be formal or dull, but very often they're relaxed, friendly affairs. With the opportunity to meet other academics with similar interests to you, you can enjoy the company of others and you might even make some good friends.
Attending a conference this spring? Feel underprepared? Well, take a look at our Conference Guidebook, it covers all you need to to know!
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